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FactCheck: is council tax increasing right across England?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 24 January 2008

Have the Tories got the measure of council tax across the country? FactCheck says no.

The claim
"Council tax will have precisely doubled in England under Gordon Brown."
Conservative party press release, 24 January 2008

The background

Council tax is unpopular; council tax rises even less so. So gloomy headlines - and an interesting press release - met today's announcement that bills are expected to go up by an average of 4 per cent in April.

Councils have yet to formalise their figures, but the Local Government Association (LGA) has given the most likely prediction possible to date, based on a survey of the draft budgets of 102 local authorities. The 4 per cent increase reflects the average change for a Band D household with two adults.

But council tax is a local tax, so the average doesn't show the finer points of the picture throughout the country.

The gaps appear to have been filled in by the Conservatives, who issued a press release containing detailed figures of the likely bills for every authority in the country, if the 4 per cent rise went ahead.

A mammoth table entitled "effects of further hikes" at the end of the release runs down through the likely increase for every local authority in the country, compared to previous and current bills.

And it's this that provides the most interesting fodder for FactCheck. Do the breakdown figures add up?

The analysis

No one likes to think they are going to have to pay more tax, but breaking things down to a local level - particularly with mayoral elections looming in London - can make things hit home harder.

The calculations the Tories have put out contain some decidedly dodgy figures. Most notable, those living in Hammersmith & Fulham would - according to the Tories - see their bills increase from £1,193 to £1,241 - a £48 hike.

In actual fact, the Conservative-controlled council is planning a 3 per cent cut, which would knock £36 off the average bill.

East Hampshire, Oldham and Westminster are all planning to hold bills constant - rather than the £53, £59 and £27 increase they're down for.

At the other end of the scale, Cambridge, Derbyshire Dales and Solihull are among authorities proposing the maximum 5 per cent rise allowed by law.

This would mean bigger increases than the Tories have proposed - £64 rather than £51, £70 rather than £56 and £60 rather than £48, respectively.

In actual fact, the Conservative-controlled council is planning a 3 per cent cut, which would knock £36 off the average bill.

What about the doubling under Gordon Brown? Technically, yes - if the 4 per cent rise goes ahead, as is expected, then the raw figures have doubled - at least under Brown's time in a Labour government, rather than since he took the reins last year. Council tax bills have increased from £688 in 1997-98 to their current £1,268 - a rise of 92 per cent since Labour came to power.

The expected increase - to £1,374 - would mean a 99.7 per cent increase since Blair first took the helm.

It would be expected that bills increase over that time - inflation means prices are going up each year. But a real-terms increase would have been about a quarter, making the average bill more like £862 than £1,374.

Admittedly, the expected increase is close to the 5 per cent at which increases are capped by the Government - but slightly lower than the 4.5 and 4.2 average increases seen in the past two years.

It's also lower than the 5 per cent, 6.1 per cent and 6.5 per cent increases that happened under the last years of Tory rule. It's also significantly lower that the 8.2 per cent (2002-03) and 12.9 per cent (2003-2004) that took place in the days pre-capping.

The verdict
The party has taken data from a snapshot survey and applied that average in detail across the country.

Their central figure is hard to dispute, but it's undermined by the misleading way in which it has been councils across the country.

FactCheck rating: 1 for the main claim; 4 for the breakdown of likely authority-by-authority increases.


Council tax bills rocket again edging towards £1,400, 24 January 2007, Conservatives

Early indications show council tax pegged to RPI, LGA news release

Levels of council tax set by local authorities in England 2006-07

Levels of council tax set by local authorities in England 2007-08

Local Government Finance Key Facts: England

London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham: Council tax

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Every time a FactCheck article is published we'll give it a rating from zero to five.

The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largerly checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.

In the unlikely event that we award a 5 out of 5, our factcheckers have concluded that the claim under examination has absolutely no basis in fact.

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